Three cheers for the police. They don’t always get things right. Sometimes they make stupid mistakes or behave badly. The right people are not always in charge, and money is perennially an issue. But when we are under attack and the thin blue line is all there is between us and a catastrophic breakdown of society, we should thank our lucky stars that young men and women still choose to don the uniform and rush to our defence.
And it is not just in the UK. It is true right across Europe. The Spanish officers who shot dead five terrorists yesterday evening in the Spanish resort of Cambrils, south of Barcelona, did so with cool determination and commendable precision. The Islamist crazies who jumped out from their crashed vehicle, wearing suicide vests, presented an immediate threat, and the police took no chances. All five were taken down. One who stood up again and began to taunt the officers, was immediately despatched. And good riddance to him. This was the correct response and those involved deserve our highest praise.
It was the same in France, where armed police over the last two years have reacted with commendable efficiency to a series of murderous attacks on innocent civilians. At the level of high politics and strategic planning, not everything has gone right. Extremists will always find a way, and there has to be a balance between resolute action and the preservation of civil rights. But when it comes to a confrontation on the streets, where officers get a chance to take on the bad guys, the French police have performed with both courage and resource.
In London, the attack earlier this year on the Houses of Parliament that began with a vehicular killing spree on Westminster Bridge, ended with one officer – armed only with his baton – stabbed to death and the terrorist who killed him taken out, seconds later, by an armed colleague. Not long after, another ram raid on the innocent, this time on London Bridge and Borough Market, ended with those responsible shot dead by a swat team that took only minutes to arrive on the scene.
There are many across the UK and Europe who literally owe their lives to the prompt and decisive intervention of armed police. No doubt, as these radicals, frustrated by their defeat in Iraq and Syria, turn their attention increasingly to soft western targets, there will be others. Sometimes, the terrorists will get through. That is in the nature of things. But they know that there is a body of armed police out there who will deal with them with a ruthlessness that is both entirely appropriate and applauded by the public.
What the police, and the intelligence services, need to assist them in their dark and dangerous work is greater resources, including an increase in their numbers. It is not good enough to thank the police and to mourn those among them who lose their lives in our cause. They need more money –actual hard cash. They need to be able to recruit thousands more to their ranks and to train more of them in the use of firearms in an emergency. Finally, each country, under British leadership perhaps, needs to build up its intelligence networks so that we can properly depend on each other across national borders. There have already been many instances in which a threat hatched in one jurisdiction has been foiled in another. Cooperation and trust are vital. Regardless of what views we may take on Brexit, we can surely agree that this is the way forward.
No one, other than the extreme Right and the extreme Left, wants to live in a police state. Safeguards and accountability must always be in place. But we do not live in normal times, and the need for a coherent armed response to the Islamist threat has never been greater.
In America, the reputation of the police has fallen to a dangerously low level. There are simply too many instances of officers shooting first and answering questions afterwards. If you are a black man, aged under 40, in the U.S., you go out on the streets at your peril. In Britain and Europe, this is not the case. Mistakes happen and there will always be individuals and groups who disgrace their colleagues. But police forces across our continent have only enhanced their reputations in the face of a steadily worsening Jihadist rampage that threatens our way of life and erects an unwelcome barrier between Europe’s post-Christian majority and its Muslim fellow citizens.
The rest of us may sometimes find ourselves in the front line, but we know that there will always be brave young officers ready to rush to our aid. It is time to acknowledge the sacrifice they make and to ensure that they have the necessary tools to finish the job.